parenting raising teens

Just Rip Your Mama's Heart Out

12:02 PMHeather

When my kids were little, my girlfriends and I used to joke and dream about the day our kids weren't these demanding and exhausting babies and toddlers and preschoolers. It felt as though that season of motherhood would never end. I felt as if I lived with a baby on my hip and a toddler in tow FOR-EV-ER. 

We would sit around at play dates envisioning the day we could go to the bathroom alone. We would stand at the playground, in some sort of ADD trance, with our conversation constantly interrupted by children and our frequent need to count heads and ensure all was well. Never making eye contact with each other, because all moms know that when you are at the park, you keep a visual on your kiddos at all times to protect them from the perils of the world that come through a playground setting.

Oh, yes. Those long and tiring years involved all sorts of encouragement to each other to "Just wait! Just wait until they can go to the bathroom all by their little lonesome self. Just wait until they can eat a meal without assistance. Just wait until the oldest one can buckle himself into the car seat while you wrangle the younger ones into theirs. Just wait until you can go out to eat without the ever present 'bag of tricks' and diversions, hoping you can manage to avoid leaving a mess behind at the restaurant that looks like a tornado had come through. OH, and just wait! Someday you won't even need a babysitter, which means you can say good-bye to the angst and anguish of calling everyone's mother's sister's cousin to try to recruit a helping hand. Just wait. Then, you'll be carefree and have a million date nights and all sorts of fun."

Just wait.

Except for one thing.

That tiny baby boy on the left thinks he can get on a plane today without so much as a parental unit to travel to Spain and Portugal. 

The nerve of that kid.

Alright. Alright. He's actually nearly 6 feet tall now and a few years have passed since this photo. 

But truly, I just blinked. I literally just blinked and all those "just waits" are a reality and for the love of all things easy and comfortable, it's making me want to scream and say-- "Can we please just go back?"

Can we just go back to when the playground was the biggest threat and all of it was within eyesight? When the only concern with peers was how to share your toys well? When my kids were within my line of vision and under my supervision for most waking hours? When my littles were snuggly and in need of their mom for most major things in life?

Because I blinked and here I am at all the "just waits." And truly, I feel as though my "babies" are just ripping their mama's heart out. I have felt emotional and fragile and raw for months and unable to really wrap my brain around why or how to fix it.

Yet, I'm realizing there is no cure. Because this is just life. This is just all part of the process of parenting. When, in theory, it sounds heavenly and divine as you fill a sippy cup 2,798 times a day and you think-- UGH. I cannot wait for them to be bigger.  I cannot wait to work myself out of a job here.

Except the bigger comes flying at you and your heart is just ripping from the brutiful process of letting your children go. And nothing about that feels heavenly and divine, although I know it is all as it should be. 

It sounds ridiculous to say I didn't see it coming. I mean, I get how ludicrous that seems, yet it's true. I knew that this was a big year for my kids, but I just didn't realize how much of a bridge year it would be for all three of them. 

I didn't realize the extent to which all three of my offspring would be crossing into new and difficult and exciting things. And I certainly could never have prepared myself for how this would feel. 

Because I basically want to go rock in a corner in fetal position. 

My oldest is a junior in high school. We had been told to expect it to be a hard year academically as it's a critical year for their college futures. I have mentally adjusted, for the most part, to him driving himself to all the places he needs to go. We have talked about college and his future plans and all the things

I just didn't know how all the things would feel. I didn't know that I experience the equivalent to a panic attack every time I realize how quickly the sand is passing through the hour glass before this boy leaves his mama (and dad) and begins his own adventures. I didn't realize how overwhelming it would be to deal with the conflicting emotions of pride and joy and anxiety and sadness as the years at home come to a close. I didn't realize that there is no sufficient word for that weight on a mama's heart because bittersweet doesn't begin to cut it.

My middle is a high school freshmen. Listen, we were all ready to leave behind middle school and all its drama and frustrations. Hear ye! Hear ye! Usher in the new things! Except that, my word, the new things have their own hardships. Adjusting to the higher expectations of teachers and tackling accelerated classes and thinking about earning college credits as a high school student. Not to mention the shifting sands of friendship in the transition to a new school. All the pressure put on my guy to act like an adult when he really is only stepping through the gate from childhood to adulthood. I somehow feel we've lost our way a bit, as a culture, in what we expect of teenagers. 

Yes! Let's raise the bar! But, my word, can we have grace and remember that their pre-frontal cortexes are still developing? Can we as adults keep in mind that it's a hard time in life and it's a different world than when we were teens? So let's just treat them kindly, people. Teachers, perhaps we can refrain from shaming students into meeting goals. Maybe offer a word of encouragement and coaching and training to lead them along the path a bit more gently instead of pushing and prodding them in a gruff manner. 

Can we, as a society, all jump on the bandwagon to remember this absolute truth: teenagers are awesome! They are. For real. So let's partner WITH them toward success instead of acting like they are one big pain in the neck? How's about we champion teenagers and align with them instead of just tolerating them?

The truth is that while they are still growing and learning and impressionable, they are keenly intuitive. They know when adults think that teenagers are lazy or difficult or intolerable. And I personally think they need us to believe in them instead of treating them like they are a burden. Let's harness all that potential, grown-ups. Let's remember how sensitive teenagers can be. Not to treat them with kid gloves. But just to be gracious.

Maybe sing a round of Kum Ba Yah together as we link arms in solidarity.

Yes, so there's all THAT going on with my teenage boys. Feeling all that on top of all the insane conflicting emotions of, as my friend Jill said-- this heart lifting and heart breaking season of letting our kids go.

Then, last but not least, there's my baby. See all of the above. And then add into the mix my teeny tiny baby girl, rounding out my three. As she has entered middle school. 

Middle school, schmiddle school. Been there. Done that. Twice before. Pa-shaw!

Or so I thought.


Not so fast there, Mama.

I've never parented a girl through middle school. Never with a tween girl who is also so very unlike ME when I was her age. This is some serious uncharted territory for me, and the trifecta of this school year for my beloveds feels like it's unraveled me. 

Because I actually cannot put myself in my daughter's shoes. I never had the drama of group text threads where words might be used too carelessly or callously. I didn't grow up with the pressure of social media or instant information. 

And I certainly never stood out in a crowd like my tall girl does, trying to reconcile a height that belies an actual age. And I don't think I was nearly as independent as my girl is. I believe the correct word is "potential leader" but right now it's messy and sometimes leans into what might be perceived as bossy.

Let's not forget the aforementioned shifting sand of friendship in a new school. The losses seems nearly debilitating as old friendships change and evoke a sense of grief. Then there comes the hope of new friendships and the juxtaposition of the joy that brings against the backdrop of losses. 

Bloggy friends, are you getting a sense of the madness I've been feeling this school year? I'm working hard here to be a safe place to land for all the kids. I'm trying to offer encouragement and strength and confidence. I'm attempting to not let my tears on their behalf be seen TOO much because I don't want to add to their load. 

And here I am today.

And there he goes.

Taking a piece of my heart with him. 

All the way to Spain and Portugal. 

Which, by the way, includes celebrating his fifteenth birthday without me. ME! The one who birthed him in the first place.

Oh, bless my soul. I kept saying just wait. It'll get easier. It'll get better. I'll live in the lap of luxury and mothering will not be this hard.

But there's no truth in that. The call to mothering means a lifetime of complex, tricky, rewarding, thrilling, exhilarating highs and challenging heart wrenching lows. Because until I draw my last breath, I'll never stop being their mother.

I'll never stop having the need to run to Jesus for help, wisdom, peace and strength. I'll never stop holding my breath through the twists and turns, shouting my encouragement all the while. I'll never stop waiting... just waiting. For the next exciting thing. Or for the hard season to pass, as unscathed as possible. For some level ground when life has been full of ups and downs. Brought to tears of pain and sorrow and also tears of greatest joy-- likely within the same nanosecond. 

Having my children rip their mama's hearts out. 

Just as it has been from the moment they were each born. 

After all, I once heard that becoming a mother, whether by birth or adoption, means walking around for the rest of your life with a piece of your heart outside of your body.

And so, he goes. Taking a piece of my heart with him. To life's great new adventures without me. And I try to not let him see me cry. I try to exude confidence and excitement for these amazing new experiences. Because while I am left behind, he is moving forward.

Tackling the world. Taking the world by storm. 

Sometimes, that means stumbling and falling and wrestling through. But always, always, learning as he goes and ALWAYS safely held by the Father.

The God who knows a far greater pain of letting a Son go forward. 

And there is no greater joy than knowing my children are walking in the truth. Even when they run ahead of me and wave goodbye until I can no longer see them.

The truth is I will always be home. Wherever they go, I will always be their home. And they will come back and tell me of all the ways God led them to new places, holding them closely, as I learn to let them go.

So, I'm going to just wait. 

Until he comes home and tells me all about it. Praying for him every second he's away. Thanking God for giving me this privilege. This brutal, anguishing and amazing privilege of being a Mama.

Learning to let my baby birds fly.

And feeling a thrill like no other when they soar.

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